The Royal Blue Line, By Herbert Harwood

Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

One of the best known historians of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad is Herbert H. Harwood, Jr. who over the years has written a number of books on the historic company. One of these is the Royal Blue Line, originally released in 1990 by the Johns Hopkins University Press although it has been revised at least once, in 2002, since then. If you are interested in learning about the history of the B&O's main line between Baltimore and New York City, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of this book. Throughout the book, Mr. Harwood has provided much of his own collection of photographs over the years as well as that of others (such as the Baltimore & Ohio Historical Society). In nearly 200 pages Herb thoroughly covers the route from its earliest years under B&O control, the railroad's partnership with the Reading and Jersey Central railroads, one of its most famous passenger trains the Royal Blue, and its ultimate downfall as a passenger route.

Mr. Harwood's Royal Blue Line begins with a quick foreword and prologue: the former is written by B&O Railroad Museum executive director Courtney Wilson who discusses a quick history of the railroad as well as its operations along its New York corridor; the latter is composed by Herb himself who goes into more detail about the route and what operations were like along the line. Additionally, he talks about the role the B&O forever played, throughout its history, as an underdog company which was constantly in competition against the much larger Pennsylvania Railroad (and to a lesser degree the New York Central). In any event, the book opens with a chapter entitled "Genesis: A Belated Awakening, 1835-1881", which is the first of ten overall chapters (not including more than twenty additional pages of statistics and information).

As the headline may suggest, Herb begins his book by discussing how the Baltimore & Ohio came into being and the interest Baltimore business leaders held in making sure that their city remained an important port along the East Coast (because, remember, in the early 19th century having a port that either lay along the coast or connected to it gave a city a unique advantage among others). However, instead of focusing on the B&O's westward expansion Mr. Harwood instead focuses his attention to the company's growth north of Baltimore. He highlights the B&O's expansion northward during the mid-19th century to reach Philadelphia and the railroad in which it had to purchase to do so. The chapter also covers the railroad's entrance into Washington, the role the Pennsylvania Railroad played in eventually dominating the New York-Baltimore market, and where the B&O was situated towards the latter half of the 1800s.

In chapter two, entitled "A Difficult Birth: 1881-1886", the B&O's continued expansion northward in the late 19th century is featured and the role one of its most important presidents, John Garrett, played in helping see the company's trek towards New York. This section also discusses some of the outright new railroad the B&O had to build to continue its New York extension. Through chapter three you will learn even more about President Garrett. Essentially, without his leadership of the time the Baltimore & Ohio quite likely would never have operated in the New York market at all. Other areas of the third chapter speak of the partnership formed with the Philadelphia & Reading (later the Reading) and Central Railroad of New Jersey. Additionally, by 1886 the B&O was operating trains to and from New York and Royal Blue Line highlights these early years as the company's ownership of the Staten Island Railroad.

During chapter four Herb covers the Royal Blue Line as it became a high speed operation including the inauguration of the regal Royal Blue. The history of this passenger train is quite fascinating and definitely worth the time to read, few others were as ornate and luxurious as this one. Moving into chapter five the book discusses the Baltimore & Ohio's construction of its fabled Baltimore Belt Railroad, the first electrified line in the United States for a main line system. The point of the route, however, was not merely to provided electrified service for the city. The primary purpose of the line was to directly connect the B&O's New York route with its main line extending to the west, thus eliminating a bottleneck with ferry service across the Baltimore Harbor.

In the following two chapters Herb highlights the golden age of the Royal Blue Line from 1898 until the B&O lost its connection to PRR's Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan after 1925. In chapter eight the book speaks of the streamliner era of theRoyal Blue and how it was brought back after a brief hiatus of being discontinued by the company. From this point, the final chapter, as you might expect, talks about the downfall of the Royal Blue Line, at least as a passenger corridor. The book is filled with excellent photography throughout with one section also featuring color images, all of which are from the 1950s or later. Additionally, Mr. Harwood has included numerous maps and sketches showing just where the B&O's line to New York operated, including in and around major cities to give you a much clearer picture of things. Again, if you are interested in learning more about this area of the Baltimore & Ohio's history and/or its famous train that operated along the route, Herb's book is the best resource on the subject. For myself, I leaned on Mr. Harwood's quite a bit when writing an article covering the general history of the B&O's Royal Blue